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Buone Feste: How Italy Celebrates Christmas

Evening Program with Reception

Monday, December 9, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.
Code: 1M2054

Christmas lights in Rimini

Italy has many of the most beautiful and meaningful celebrations of the Christmas season to be found anywhere. These festivities last a month, from the feast day of Saint Nicholas (December 6) to Epiphany (January 6). During that time, each region of the country marks the season with festive local traditions that are as much about the place as the holiday. Join popular Smithsonian speaker Fred Plotkin, an expert on everything Italian, on a memorable tour that celebrates the magic that is Christmas in Italy.

Discover the elaborate presepi (Nativity cribs) of Naples and see how Milan uses the extraordinary opening night of La Scala to kick off its holiday season. Journey down Venice’s lantern-lit streets that lead to the Grand Canal, where the Befana (Italy’s equivalent of Santa Claus) arrives majestically on a large boat. Christmas markets in the Italian Alps rival the best of Germany and Austria.

Visit Abruzzo and learn about the Christmas Eve tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, thought to celebrate the seven holy sacraments or the seven days of the creation of the world. Throughout the country, distinctive local baked goods mark the season, from the gubana cakes of Udine and Trieste (made with grappa, nuts, and dried fruit) to the tiny almond-based sweets of Sicily. 

No exploration of Christmas in Italy is complete without a stop in Rome. The city’s bancarelle—colorful stalls selling all kinds of foods and toys—create a lively atmosphere on dark winter days. In the city’s old neighborhoods, zampognari (bagpipe-playing shepherds) wander piazzas where people eat traditional fried fish. At the center of it all, the Vatican celebrates the season with unmatched pomp and splendor, as the pope conducts a series of masses and rituals viewed around the world.

The special evening concludes with a holiday reception featuring Italian-inspired specialties.


On the Buffet

Primo Antipasto
Imported prosciutto and capicola ham, Genoa salami, provolone and fresh mozzarella cheeses, Roma tomatoes, kalamata olives, and pepperoncini; served with focaccia bread

Risotto Cakes
Golden spheres of pan-fried saffron risotto cooked with imported Parmesan cheese and accompanied by a lemon-basil cream

Miniature Italian Calzones
Fresh-made pizza dough crescents filled with Italian meats and cheeses and served with a marinara sauce

Cocktail Meatballs
Miniature beef and sausage meatballs in a red pepper-and-tomato sauce

Tomato-Basil Tart
Roasted tomatoes, fresh basil, and red pepper Boursin cheese on flaky puff pastry

A Sweet Ending

Tiramisu Trifle
Layers of creamy mascarpone, Marsala, and espresso-soaked lady fingers, sprinkled with cocoa powder

Florentine Cookies
A traditional Italian treat made with nuts and honey


Sparkling wine; still and sparkling water served with lemons and limes

S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)